“You hypocrites! Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you: ‘These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.'” – Matthew 15:7-8 (NIV)
“Church is full of hypocrites.”
This refrain surely keeps thousands if not millions of seats empty in sanctuaries every Sunday. For some people, religious hypocrisy makes church truly distasteful. Others find it a convenient excuse when really, their weary bones want to stay planted on the sofa for the Sabbath. For still others, the real issue is indifference or hostility toward God, if not outright unbelief.
Whatever the truth behind the excuse, let’s be clear about a couple of things:
• Yes, there are hypocrites in church.
• All of them are human.
The “so-what” of hypocrisy in church depends on how you define it. If Jesus were talking today about hypocrites in the religious elite, I wonder if he might have used use the term “posers.” The word he used literally meant “actors.” He was speaking of a cynical, fraudulent religiosity adopted for personal gain – social status, power, influence, money, whatever motivated the Pharisees and teachers of the law in His day. So yes, if you see a church full of Christian posers, it’s probably best to stay away. Pray for them to one day find authentic faith. But unless God clearly calls you to be a light for Him in their midst, steer clear. If the poser is in the pulpit, steer doubly clear. Such a person has a long road to real redemption, as he’s apt to believe his own press clippings, even if he’s the one making them up.
If your definition of a hypocrite is someone who professes to be a Christian but still sins, still shows negative personality traits, still struggles with pride or prejudice – meet the human race. If you’re a believer, you’re still commanded to love those people, as they are commanded to love you with all of your foibles. That doesn’t mean you grit your teeth, shut your eyes and grunt until the feelings of love well up within your heart. It means you draw on the love the Father and the Son give through the Spirit, and you behave lovingly toward those people, personal feelings aside. You can only do that by being with those people, obeying the Bible’s teaching: “And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another – and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” (Hebrews 10:24-25)
Also, ask yourself this: If you look around church, or any assembly of Christians, and all you see are hypocrites, what is the real problem? Maybe you’re holding your brothers and sisters in Christ to a standard that no one, including you, can meet. If we could achieve that standard in this life, we wouldn’t have needed Christ to go to the cross for us. Or as Paul succinctly put it: “You, then, why do you judge your brother or sister? Or why do you treat them with contempt? For we will all stand before God’s judgment seat.” (Romans 14:10 NIV)
If you’re outside the faith, and you say hypocrisy repels you and destroys the church’s credibility, then please understand the meaning of faith. The cross is not a magic wand that ends all sinning, nor is it a token earned through good behavior. It is, to use a well-worn metaphor, a bridge between us and God. Jesus’ death on the cross in your place makes you clean in God’s sight as soon as you receive the free gift – even though you’ll continue to struggle against sinful behavior until the day you die. Jesus’ resurrection ensures that your death will be merely a passage to eternity with Him, where all sin will be gone.
So if you see Christians still sinning, there’s a reason: they’re still human, still works in progress. Their bad behavior will give you no excuse when you stand before God. It will come down to one question: What did you do with Jesus?
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)